In all of my curriculum research, I’ve come to a greater understanding of the way different curriculum providers choose to focus their curriculum, philosophically.
For example, there’s classical education done The Well Trained Mind way. More than anything else, the focus of studies for this philosophy is history. Yes, the classical method is important here, as far as the different stages of learning, and using appropriate activities and materials for each stage, but at the center you find the four-year history cycle, and emphasis on being familiar with the whys and wherefores of what has happened in the past.
Then there’s education, Sonlight-style. The focus of this program is great literature. It’s not really classical, although it does get into the four-year cycle eventually, in a Sonlight kind of way. But there are tons of great books in this program, both to be read aloud, and for the children to read to themselves. I don’t think any other program “requires” the reading of so much great literature by their students.
There are other philosophies that lean toward classical, but in different ways. My Father’s World, for example, is classical-ish, but focuses on the Bible. However, it also ties in elements of unit studies and Charlotte Mason philosophy. So, you get the best of many worlds, here–great Bible instruction within the four-year history cycle, and lots of fun hands on activities, nature walks, and a gentle introduction into Language Arts.
There are also companies who focus solely on the Charlotte Mason method, such as Winterpromise. Again, lots of nature studies, family discussion, and hands-on activities. Notebooking is also an important part of this program, but the four-year history cycle really is not. As a matter of fact, they go so far as to say that the four-year cycle may repeat too much, which is a very different philosophy.
Heart of Dakota is another Charlotte Mason style curriculum, but with a heavier emphasis on religious education. Like My Father’s World, it is intended to be used by students of different ages, at least for the history, science, and religion segments–math and language arts, of course, need to be supplemented according to each student’s ability, and there are extension packages available to make the program more challenging for older students.
The Latin Centered Curriculum is another classical method, and, much like The Well Trained Mind, it is a book of suggestions for materials, and not a curriculum company. As its title suggests, The Latin Centered Curriculum places the focus on the study of Latin, even eventually studying great works in their original language. In a way, this is almost a grammar and language arts focused program. I have found that nothing teaches my children English grammar better than learning Latin, and I’m assuming the same would hold true with a Latin-focused program.
Different countries, (or continents, as the case may be), around the world also have different educational focuses. In Europe, for example, it could be argued that the focus is on foreign languages. Students start learning a foreign language in grade school, and continue learning it throughout their schooling–there is no simply being done with it, as we usually see after two (or sometimes four) years of foreign language here in America. They also continue adding additional foreign languages every few years, so that a European student might be fluent in three or four languages by the time he or she is done with school.
In Asia, the primary course of study is definitely math (and, more recently, science). Math programs have sprung up in the U.S., attempting to mimic this style of learning. Mental math is very important in Asian math programs, more so than the spiral method which is so common here. And there’s no doubt, looking at the test scores, that it’s working–Asian students routinely score very highly in math and the sciences.
Of course, these are all generalizations, but it’s interesting to me to see what different people like to emphasize in education. Sometimes it’s cultural, sometimes it’s religious, sometimes it’s a philosophy. But everyone has a reason for teaching the way they do, and for centering their studies around whatever subject they choose.
As for us, I try to balance our subjects, but I definitely have my favorites, as well. I love learning through literature, particularly historical literature, so the four-year history cycle is very appealing to me. I also have a strong desire to study and learn as much Latin as possible, both for my children and myself. I guess you could call us eclectic. The most important thing, though, is finding what works for your children, and taking full advantage of all the opportunities for learning that you can!